In traveling, it’s always assumed that it’s easier for the person walking away. While I’m sure that is the case for some people, I can assure you that it’s not for me.
Before moving to Spain, I had already moved alone once so I thought, “This can’t be THAT much harder, right?” I’ve found housing on my own before, I’ve paid my own bills, cooked my own meals. “I’ll survive” but as it turned out, living alone in a foreign country is SEVERAL degrees harder. Why?
1. Language Barrier
Yup, no surprise there. One of the hardest parts about living alone abroad to me is the language barrier.
Before arriving in Spain, I knew some rudimentary Spanish thanks to my Spanish classes from middle school and high school. However, I’ve never actually had to USE it much in real life, aside from deciphering all the Spanish ads on the New York City subways or hearing my friends speak it.
But LEARNING and HEARING a language is VERY different from USING it. You might’ve scored 100 on your Spanish exam but when a native speaker comes up to you and speaks 70mphs with slang words thrown in, all you can say is “Como…?”
2. Different Standards
The next difficult thing about living abroad is the different ideas about what’s standard.
For instance, in the U.S, when you have to get an I.D (identification card) you have to go to the DMV. Here in Spain (or at least in Bilbao) you have to go to the police station.
Or when I really wanted a tea-kettle, I had to go to several stores to look for one. (I asked my coworkers and they asked me why I needed one?) Or how about when you need something really specific like window sealants to minimize draft in your house or googly eyes to make sock puppets with your students? Where do you go? Donde?
And that’s how I spent my first two months here in Spain. Looking for stuff.
3. Cultural Misunderstandings
A few weeks ago, I joined a meetup group because I wanted more information about their events. Turns out, I joined a group for Spanish speakers looking to improve their English and not the other way around. So, I left.
A few minutes later, I receive an angry text message saying I was rude for leaving and not saying bye. I was asked, “Don’t people do this in America?”
I was quite taken back as I didn’t even know the guy’s name or any of the 30+ people in the chat group and I didn’t know what to say except, “Sorry but I don’t think this is for me.
4. Alone A Lot More Than I’d Like to Be
I’m an introvert and I like my space but even introverts have limits!
When I first moved into my own apartment in Spain, I rejoiced. I did all the things that I’ve always wanted to do alone like meditate, yoga, write, blast my favorite music, sing at the top of my lungs, or simply make a mess.
By my fourth month, however, I found myself CRRAVING company. I would sit at my kitchen counter and wish I had someone to talk to, someone to complain with, or someone to enjoy dinner with. And when I tried to call friends, they’re either working or sleeping or my phone calls keep dropping because my cell service sucks.
But You Chose This
I know what you’re thinking, “No one forced you into this. This is the life that YOU chose! ” and you’re right, I did.
But I also don’t think people realize how HARD it is exactly to walk away from the people that we love, the homes that we know like the back of our hands, the comfort, familiarity, and stability. However, you will never hear it from some of us because we don’t want you to worry about us or convince us to go home. This is what we’ve chosen and this is what we want, otherwise, we wouldn’t have done it.
Here’s one of my favorite travel poems that describes this feeling:
The Men That Don’t Fit In
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.